On The Bus

Why one Indianapolis township includes a bus tour in its new teacher orientation

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum
Every year, Wayne Township takes new teachers on a bus tour of the community as part of new teachers' orientation to the district.

In a crisp, blue button-down shirt and tie, recent college graduate Nathaniel Deshazer eagerly watched out the window of a yellow school bus as it rolled passed BBQ joints, churches and homes throughout Indianapolis’ Wayne Township.

Next week, Deshazer will stand in front of 10th and 12th grade students at Ben Davis High School. This week, he and 108 other new teachers in the westside district got a tour of where their students live.

“I will draw your attention to what’s outside your window so you can truly understand the community,” said Shenia Suggs, assistant superintendent for human resources of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, as she directed the bus on a tour of the township.

“It’s a very eclectic, diverse community,” Suggs said.

Deshazer comes from Anderson, a mostly middle-class city an hour north of Indianapolis whose majority white population bears little resemblance to Wayne’s racially-mixed neighborhoods.

He had “no idea” what the community where he’ll be working looked like before the tour, he said. And, as he gets ready to meet his students, he hopes he’ll be able to connect with the kids.

“My strategy is just be real with them, ask them where they come from and genuinely care,” he said.

But as the bus tour rolled by the district’s schools and through its neighborhoods, Deshanzer said he hopes seeing how his students live will help him better understand them.

District administrators on each bus explained the significance of certain areas of town, the stories behind the names of Gasoline Alley or Garden City Elementary School, and answered questions posed by the new teachers.

“Seeing where the students live, the areas and homes in Wayne gives you better understanding of your students,” said Sheila Pritchett, who is new to Wayne Township after teaching in IPS for five years. “Now I have a beforehand snapshot of my students.”

Wayne Township has been giving these tours as part of new teacher orientation since the 1980s, Suggs said.

“It was one of those things that grew out of desegregation,” Suggs said. “And its value has outlasted that.”

Wayne Township was one of the Indianapolis townships that had been largely white when a federal judge ordered the city to implement a busing program to integrate schools.

Faced with a sudden infusion of new students from a different neighborhood, the district began giving bus tours to teachers as a way to introduce its mostly white educators to the African-American students they would be now teaching.

Early bus tours took teachers to Indianapolis’ Haughville neighborhood where the new students lived so they could get a sense of where their students were coming from.

This year, the tours are different. The desegregation busing program ended earlier this year so the bus tour stays closer to Wayne Township, but Wayne has changed remarkably in the years since diversity had to be bussed in.

While just 10 percent of Wayne Townships students had been black when busing began in 1981, today’s student demographics are more diverse — 31 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic and 36 percent white.

The income levels of families also varies widely, evident in the homes ranging from old trailer parks to new, multi-story homes built near a golf course seen on the tour.

“Not many of our teachers live in the district,” Suggs said. “This is really their introduction to the community they serve….we want them to have that information in order to make connections with their students.”

The conversation about how teachers can better relate to their students, especially when racial or cultural differences divide them, is going on in school districts across the nation. The annual bus tour is one of the ways Wayne attempts to cross that divide.

As cultural competency and equity trainings that teach educators how to overcome barriers between them and their students become more popular, there are some critics of the bus tours. One of them is Pat Payne, who was national pioneer creating what is now called the Office of Racial Equity at Indianapolis Public Schools, which provides training to help teachers better serve students from diverse backgrounds.

Payne spoke highly of the work of Suggs and others at Wayne Township. School districts that operate bus tours, she said, should be sure to pair them with deeper training about the local history.

“Districts want to bus teachers around neighborhoods, but you cannot do that without knowing the history and what came before the blight in those communities,” she said.

Community members who lived through the history of the area can give new teachers an better idea of why neighborhoods look the way they do, Payne said, and encourage them to have the same expectations of all kids no matter what part of town they come from.

“We need people to have high expectations,” Payne said.

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.

Teacher Pay

‘Our teachers have waited long enough’: Educators say Indiana needs to act now on teacher pay

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in Decatur Township work on physics problems with their teacher.

Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.

“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”

Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.

Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.

“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”

“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.

ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.

And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.

But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.

Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.

With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.

Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.

“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”

ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:

  • Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
  • Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
  • Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
  • Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
  • Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.

Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.